Authors Guild Continues To Falsely Claim That Reading Aloud On A Kindle Violates Audio Rights

from the which-rights-exactly? dept

Roy Blount Jr. is a funny man. He appears regularly on the radio show Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me..., and is one of their funnier panelists. But, unfortunately, I don't think he was joking when he wrote a silly Op-Ed for the NY Times defending the Authors Guild's stance that having a Kindle use text-to-speech to read aloud is somehow a violation under copyright law. Blount, who's the President of the Guild, seem to be arguing not from a legal perspective, but from a "but this is how we want it to be" perspective. That's because he has almost no legal argument at all. Using text-to-speech to read text you legally own aloud is not copyright infringement. It's not a "fixed" version of the material, and it's not a public performance. So, rather than come up with a legal justification for such a ridiculous claim, Blount resorts to this: "audio books are a billion-dollar market."

This is the "but the old way of doing business made us so much money, so any innovation must be illegal" argument. You know what else was a big market at one time? Horse & buggies. And Gramophones. And 8-tracks. But technology made them all obsolete at some point or another, and that wasn't illegal. You don't get to cling to an old business model just because it made you lots of money. Sometimes new technologies come along, and they provide a better experience for people, and the market changes. Already it's a stretch to say that a TTS read-aloud of a book really "competes" with an audio book, but even if it did one day, that doesn't necessarily make it illegal just because Blount and the Authors Guild wishes it were so.

Finally, Blount responds to criticism that the Authors Guild's stance goes against readers for the blind or the ability to read aloud to your kid at night. He basically just says "no, that's not true." But he doesn't explain why. That's because there is no good explanation, based on what the Authors Guild has said concerning "audio rights." Basically, the Authors Guild is trying to pretend copyright says what it wants it to say, rather than what it actually says. And, when people have pointed out examples of how the Authors Guild's interpretation of copyright is bogus, their response is "well, we didn't mean it for that." They are, of course, missing the point. Those examples aren't to show the full impact of what the Authors Guild is claiming. They're to show that the Authors Guild is wrong in what it thinks copyright grants them. For a group of "Authors" they seem to have trouble with basic reading comprehension.

Update: John Paczkowski has a great post on this, comparing Blount's statements to those of John Philip Sousa a century ago, complaining about the introduction of "playing and talking machines" and how they would destroy music.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    John Duncan Yoyo, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 2:30pm

    Having heard a kindle 2 reading there is no great danger there. It is just another lifeless computer voice that doesn't even pause for periods.

    What this really shows is a distinct tin ear on the part of the writers guild. This is an accessibility feature for vision impaired kindle owners.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 2:44pm

    Think of poor Jake Wood!

    No, The Authors Guild is absolutely right with this one, and don't argue with me!

    Audio rights are usually sold to Jake Wood to read with his breathy, manly, voice. Grr!

     

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  3.  
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    interval, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 3:17pm

    So much...

    ...for the supposedly "progressive" NPR crowd.

     

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  4.  
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    Random Dude, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 3:22pm

    Amazon's Lawyers Took Care of This

    I have to assume that the agreement between Amazon and the publishing houses contains the magic words, i.e., "reproduce, modify, perform, display and distribute." If the Amazon lawyers were smart (I assume they are), the agreement probably provides that the payment event is the download, and Amazon can "reproduce, modify, perform, display and distribute" "royalty free" provided that each reproduction, performance, display, etc,. is made via the Kindle (and provided that the publisher recieves the one-time download royalty). Maybe we are jumping the gun here?

     

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  5.  
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    Nick (profile), Feb 25th, 2009 @ 3:36pm

    One day, text-to-speech will be good enough for the mainstream of audiobook listeners. And when it is, I will be so happy. And when this happens, Audible.com should hope they have moved into a different business. Audible.com is owned by Amazon, so just shutting down Audible.com when that happens should not be too hard.

    There are a ton of books out there that I would buy as an audiobook but the publishers have not chosen to hire the voice talent, production, etc.

    The authors want to sell the uses of their books piece-by-piece. But the market is going to demand non-complicated solutions to this need for more audiobooks.

    Mike, it is also similar in some ways to the rights that people try to sell as movies. If the story is already in public and is about facts, there is no legal requirement that story rights from a dead person's relative need to be sold, transferred, or granted.

     

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  6.  
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    Politically Incorrect, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 3:53pm

    This is just getting ridiculous

    I just don't know what to say anymore. Greed has played a role in every civilization know to man, but this is just getting ridiculous. My wife is a special education teacher, and by their terminology, she is violating copyright law everyday.

    She utilizes software that reads text aloud so that students can learn to read. It can help them sound out individual words if needed. It can also read web pages or practically anything on the screen for the blind. I guess she can't use that anymore. So much for her students being able to experience the required reading material because of course those were written by an author and we do not want to infringe on their rights.

    She reads aloud to her class from textbooks, novels, etc. and they read aloud to each other as part of group readings. I guess that is out the window now since all those come from authors. So, inorder to teach her students, I will have to create a device that will transfer the knowledge from her brain to her students' via the matrix. Oh but wait, does that constitute a public performance of her knowledge; that would be a violation of her rights. I can't do that either.

    Whats a guy to do?

    DISCLAIMER--Any reading aloud of this post constitutes a violation of my rights and is subject to litigation.

     

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  7.  
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    hegemon13, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 4:04pm

    Re:

    "One day, text-to-speech will be good enough for the mainstream of audiobook listeners. And when it is, I will be so happy."

    Yeah, right. Just like MIDI has fully replaced live orchestra recordings, right? No, a simulated voice rendered on-the-fly will NEVER be able to replace a human voice, because it is incapable of the emotion necessary to create the proper intonations. Listen to a good reader, like the late Frank Muller, and you will understand. No computer will ever replace him.

     

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  8.  
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    hegemon13, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 4:04pm

    Re:

    "One day, text-to-speech will be good enough for the mainstream of audiobook listeners. And when it is, I will be so happy."

    Yeah, right. Just like MIDI has fully replaced live orchestra recordings, right? No, a simulated voice rendered on-the-fly will NEVER be able to replace a human voice, because it is incapable of the emotion necessary to create the proper intonations. Listen to a good reader, like the late Frank Muller, and you will understand. No computer will ever replace him.

     

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  9.  
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    Buzz, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 4:12pm

    Re: This is just getting ridiculous

    You idiot! I was reading your post out loud to my wife and THEN got to your disclaimer at the bottom! That's not fair! You have to put the disclaimer at the TOP!

     

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  10.  
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    Petréa Mitchell, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 4:20pm

    Paraphrasing

    IMHO, what he is saying is: "I sold the exclusive right to one use of my work (audio) to A. Then I sold the exclusive right to another use of my work (e-publication) to B. Then it turned out B was lying, because he went and used it in a different way than what I sold him the rights for. B is a dirty cheater and I deserve redress."

    (And unspoken: "And now A is probably looking into how to sue me for breach of contract. Remember, it was supposed to be an exclusive right!")

    Granted, this still doesn't show that copyright law needs to be invoked. The situation would seem to call for a talk between the authors and Amazon about what exactly allowing e-publication means, and perhaps a revaluation of those rights in future contracts.

     

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  11.  
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    cdaragorn, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 4:33pm

    copyright violation? with what copy?

    By copyright's own definition, a copy has not been made until it is stored in a permanent physical medium. You can't claim a copyright violation when no copy was ever made! This is the whole reason that text-to-speech technology is perfectly legal.

     

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  12.  
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    some old guy, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 4:37pm

    Re: Paraphrasing

    All exclusivity deals harm the customer/customer. Just most of them aren't aware of it.

    "Exclusive Rights" deals are what should be made illegal, then all sorts of "intellectual property" issues will disappear.

     

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  13.  
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    Different Mike, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 4:40pm

    Value added

    The above poster is incorrect. The text-to-speech does not constitute an audio publication of the book, therefore Party A would not have any claim to breach due to loss of exclusivity.

    Even if the kindle text-to-speech was better and didn't speak in an "electronic" sounding voice it still would not be a replacement for an audio book read by a good orator. Then there is the fact that the audio book can be on a CD, or can be converted to MP3 for play on an MP3 player, while the kindle text-to-speech can only be played on the Kindle.

    There really is no competition here. The Writer's guild appears to be suffering from cranial-rectal inversion.

     

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  14.  
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    Just Passing Through, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 4:51pm

    Sousa's complaint

    Update: John Paczkowski has a great post on this, comparing Blount's statements to those of John Philip Sousa a century ago, complaining about the introduction of "playing and talking machines" and how they would destroy music.
    Well Sousa certainly took advantage of the technology. His band recorded plenty of Edison cylinders. See http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/search.php?query=sousa&queryType=%40attr+1%3D1016

     

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  15.  
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    Erv Server, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 5:58pm

    speech to text

    Amazon shot itself in the foot in a way, thanks to Kindle II every ebook on Amazon has just became an audiobook at an ebook price. Yes the quality is not great but hey you can save money, audiobooks are much more expensive than ebooks. You can even hook the Kindle II to a recorder ( headphone to line in ) and record the book to a cd. Thanks Amazon !

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 6:27pm

    Re: Re: This is just getting ridiculous

    That's how he makes money, if it was at the top he would not be able to sue you.

     

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  17.  
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    Progressives are not open minded by definition-, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 8:19pm

    Re: So much...

    Progressive by definition means doing exactly this. Fixing prices, fixing laws, and sending anyone who disagrees to jail. Hoover did it, FDR did it, and with union backing there will soon be internment camps set up for kindle owners. People who insist progressive have open minds have no sense for history. Libertarians are the opposite of progressives and is the only system likely to release the binds of patent law and the attorneys that want to wage the same punishment on people who play their music loud as levied against someone who assaults someone else.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 8:51pm

    Re: from the which-rights-exactly? dept

    izuka01 - I will not visit your crappy sites

     

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  19.  
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    Agonizing Fury, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 9:02pm

    Good chance for a lawsuit

    I just had a great idea for a big lawsuit. we should all drive while reading our kindles, then sue the Authors guild for saying it was a violation of copyright law to have the kindle read to us!!!

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 9:02pm

    Kindergarten Cop

    Plot:
    A tough cop is given his most difficult assignment, masquerade as a a kindergarten teacher in order to find a copy right infringer.

    thanks to IMDB for portions of the above

    Sorry Kids, but I can not read to you because the read aloud copy right costs too much.

     

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  21.  
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    Steve, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 10:22pm

    Audio rights deals with distribution of an author's work via audio. Distribution can be by CD, tape, digital audio file, stream, or broadcast etc.

    These at the Author's Guild see a potential loss of revenue, because some people who might have bought both a paper book and an audio book in the past, may now just buy an e-book, reading it and listening to it via text-to-speech. While they may in fact miss some revenue, that does not justify invoking the audio rights argument. In the Kindle scenario, only one form of the book is being distributed, and that's via text. How the customer chooses to consume the text is the customer's business. The same applies to all text that we have on our computers and devices. I can use TTS to speak any text I have rightful access to. I can also feed the text into a braille display, project it on my wall, and print it out and make a piñata.

    On the other hand, if the customer was to record the audio output of the Kindle, or record their own reading of a book, and then distribute that recording to others, that could infringe on the rights of the copyright owner, especially if distributed commercially.

    But this is not what the Author's Guild is arguing. Sometimes technology makes the information we purchase more useful. This is one of those cases. The Authors Guild needs to use common sense and realize that they cannot invoke copyright law in this situation. Text-to-speech is not "copying" nor is it distribution.

     

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  22.  
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    Jasen (profile), Feb 25th, 2009 @ 11:43pm

    Waste of time...

    The Author's Guild has failed to realize that not everyone owns a Kindle. People still buy books and people still buy audio books. Text to speech is useful but does not replace a narrated story by a skilled actor.

     

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  23.  
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    Stephen, Feb 26th, 2009 @ 8:59am

    I disagree with the Authors Guild Here

    I think that reading aloud should be considered "fair use" if done in a home or school enviornment. The reason being, is that people often read books that are in print outloud to their children, for one. Another is that enabling speech should be allowed if someone is blind, too. As a disability rights advocate I know many who use screen readers. I think that these guilds have taken copyright way too far. I beleive that if they fear illegal broadcasting of the speech out, maybe they could put in the license agreement something like "speech output is for non-commercial use only" or something like that to disallow broadcasting but allow reading allowed for home and academic use.

     

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  24.  
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    Petréa Mitchell, Feb 26th, 2009 @ 9:11am

    Re: Value added

    "The text-to-speech does not constitute an audio publication of the book, therefore Party A would not have any claim to breach due to loss of exclusivity."

    Unfortunately, if Party A decides to try it, establishing (or disproving) that point will be up to a long, painful court case of the sort which is decided by who runs out of resources first. And that's likely to be the author.

    "[...] it still would not be a replacement for an audio book read by a good orator."

    For now, sure. But are you certain technology is never going to reach the point where it is a reasonable replacement?

    "[...] while the kindle text-to-speech can only be played on the Kindle."

    How long do you want to bet that lasts? Even in terms of official Kindle features? (I'm pretty sure someone has their own homebrew system for getting around that already.)

     

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  25.  
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    bshock, Feb 26th, 2009 @ 9:28am

    Sometimes the main point is less important

    Okay, so the main point in this discussion is that the Authors' Guild is fabricating copyright law in order to make its public complaints. Fine. I agree that this is stupid, illogical, and generally wrong.

    But an underlying point is far more important: copyright law is based on a fundamental misunderstanding, and so its very existence is inherently flawed. Granting a temporary monopoly to artists has not been shown to increase or improve available art in the current era (where leisure time for creating art is abundant, as opposed to previous eras where leisure time for creating art was rare).

    You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The current discussion sounds like everyone has assumed that you can, and is busy arguing about what the stitching should look like.

    Then too, there's the much narrower underlying point that invoking the name "Kindle" is promoting and prolongin a ridiculously bad product that needs to take its place on the dustbin of history as soon as possible.

    A dedicated electronic text reader would be a marginal product at best. The only thing the Kindle might do better than an ordinary book is redirect a little money to Amazon and its tin-horn Kindle cartel. That's hardly a market-driving innovation.

    However, I own thousands of text files (PDFs, CHMs, DOCs, TXTs, etc.) that I might want to read on such a device. Sometimes I want to read on a plane, sitting around in public, or on the toilet, and bringing a laptop to read my files would be cumbersome, and potentially expensive in terms of loss or breakage.

    The current version of the Kindle is effectively useless for these purposes. First, it actively discourages you from using your own files. (Though it can be done, with some time and effort.) Second, it is ridiculously expensive. ($399)

    This argument about the Authors' Guild is only serving to advertise a piece of technological garbage, and slow the pace at which the marketplace supplies something I can actually use, goddamnit.

     

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  26.  
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    nasch, Feb 26th, 2009 @ 11:07am

    Re: Re: So much...

    Definitions of progressive on the Web:

    * favoring or promoting progress; "progressive schools"
    * favoring or promoting reform (often by government action)
    * (of taxes) adjusted so that the rate increases as the amount of income increases
    * fixing prices, fixing laws, and sending anyone who disagrees to jail
    * gradually advancing in extent
    * a tense of verbs used in describing action that is on-going
    * (of a card game or a dance) involving a series of sections for which the participants successively change place or relative position; "progressive euchre"; "progressive tournaments"
    * liberal: a person who favors a political philosophy of progress and reform and the protection of civil liberties
    * advancing in severity; "progressive paralysis"

    See if you can spot which of those definitions didn't really come up on a google search. ;-)

     

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  27.  
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    nasch, Feb 26th, 2009 @ 11:13am

    Re: Re:

    Why? What you're really saying is, "computers can't even come close now to doing this". That is true, but think about how fast computer technology is changing. Personally I think it's preposterous to suggest that a computer will NEVER be able to read text in a convincingly human way.

    How long it will take to be good enough for most listeners, I have no idea. It could be a long time, maybe 20 years or more; natural language is a difficult problem to solve with the algorithmic computers we have today. So we'll have to either develop far better algorithms (some of which will be enabled by faster and faster processors), or entirely new kinds of computers - neural net, quantum, who knows. But it will happen sooner or later.

     

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  28.  
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    nasch, Feb 26th, 2009 @ 11:18am

    Re: speech to text

    If Amazon's sales are going to be cannibalized (that is, if somebody is eventually going to make an e-book reader with text-to-speech), better for them for it happen with their own product than with somebody else's.

    Companies that don't innovate because they're afraid of taking away sales from another product line tend to get left behind by competitors who have no such hesitation.

     

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  29.  
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    nasch, Feb 26th, 2009 @ 11:41am

    Re: I disagree with the Authors Guild Here

    I disagree with both of you! Fair use is a defense against copyright infringement. In this case, there is no copyright infringement, because there was no copy made. So no need for any fair use defense.

     

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  30.  
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    Myk, Feb 26th, 2009 @ 2:59pm

    Neil Gaiman's Take

    Neil Gaiman's take on the situation is summarized here.

    I, for one, agree.

     

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  31.  
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    Dianedog, Feb 27th, 2009 @ 6:11am

    Re: This is just getting ridiculous

    Right on......

     

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